Curators are calling for the £9 million system of "ring-fenced"
grants for university museums and galleries to be protected amid fears that changes to the funding regime will see budgets for art collections squeezed.
From 2009, university galleries and museums will receive funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England rather than direct grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Curators fear that the change will see their funding absorbed into universities' core grant from Hefce, a move they say would give vice-chancellors greater control over museum and galleries budgets.
Nichola Johnson, chairwoman of the University Museums Group and director of the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, said that some vice-chancellors saw galleries as "liabilities rather than assets".
"What we are lobbying for is that at least money is ring-fenced in the core grant so that universities do not have discretion to say how much of it would be spent on museums," she said.
In an article in this week's Times Higher , Charles Saumarez Smith, director of the National Gallery and president of the Museums Association, says there is "the sound of knives being sharpened in university finance departments".
"It would be ironic if just when university galleries are so intent on demonstrating their public value, the axe came down on funding."
Hefce said that decisions about how the funding system would work would be taken nearer to 2009. In a statement, it said it believed "further work is required to ensure that museums are fully integrated into the research, teaching and outreach activities and strategies of their host universities, in order to maximise the use and value of their unique and important collections".
The statement added that Hefce was seeking to reduce the number of "separate lines of funding" for higher education.